‘Big-banger’ V8-powered openwheeler racing looks set to return to Australian (and NZ) race tracks next year. Plans for an all-new, open wheeler motorsport category in Australia, in effect a 21st century evolution of the most spectacular and popular openwheeler race car category in Australasian motorsport history – Formula 5000 – have been revealed.
Formula Thunder 5000, as it will be known (FT5000 for short), will utilise a modern, carbon-fibre monocoque chassis design, modified slightly and primarily built in Australia to accept the ‘control’ 5-litre stock-block V8 engine selected to power the cars.
Other philosophies adopted from the earlier era to create a spicy and challenging race car include the combination of a ‘moderate’ aerodynamics package with big, wide tyres, all aimed at promoting ‘mechanical grip’ – and thus driver skill – as the key requirement for on-track success. The project has been two years in behind-the scenes research, planning and early development, but now a prototype car, based in Melbourne, is just a few weeks away from initial on-track testing.
A second element of the FT5000 plan is expected to see its primary ‘season’ focussed on a proposed seven-round December (NZ) and January (Australia) Tasman series – again, much as in motorsport’s golden hey-day. Former Australian motorsport publishing MD, V8 Supercar Commission member and
Historic F5000 fan Chris Lambden heads the FT5000 initiative:
“This has been quietly evolving for two years,” confirms Lambden, “ever since I had the opportunity to race a historic F5000 car myself. Everywhere we went, the reaction was the same – that is, that this was the best thing ever in Australian motorsport and what a shame there wasn’t something like it now.
“I eventually started to take that on board and decided to see if there was any way a sensibly cost-controlled, modern version of the greatest openwheeler formula in Australia’s motorsport history, outside of F1, might be possible – and that’s what I believe we’ve come up with. Hopefully, a new generation of talented young drivers will get to experience the kind of mind-blowing performance that Alan Jones, Kevin Bartlett, Spencer Martin, Warwick Brown and the other stars of that 70s generation did … and which motorsport fans loved.
“The FT5000 car will be a seriously challenging, powerful, fast, openwheeler race car to drive … and the sight and sound of a grid full of them getting off the line should be awesome …”
“The over-riding aim has been to keep the costs – both of initial car and then running costs – as reasonable and controlled as possible, to make FT5000 as accessible to as many teams and drivers as possible. Therefore, the car contains mostly single-make, ‘control’ items which, apart from the crucial cost control perspective, will result in close competition. So, the chassis, engine, gearbox, wheels, brakes, tyres and shock absorbers are all single-brand – but packaged into a car which will have spectacular on-track performance. The overall car spec will also be frozen for a minimum of four years.
“The cost of designing, developing, prototyping and even crash-testing such a car here in Australia, from scratch, is prohibitive, and simply wouldn’t have happened, so we set out to find if there was a modern car available, that already existed, but that was no longer produced, that could suit our needs. In the end, we unearthed a great option – US company Swift Engineering, who built a car for Japanese Formula Nippon until the end of 2012, agreed to us acquiring the design and all the manufacturing tools etc for it, so that we could base our concept on it. That is what, in reality, has allowed the project to proceed. The design is fully FIA crash-test compliant, so it’s right up there in terms of safety standards – and it’s a cool-looking car.
“Subsequently, we’ve been able to assemble a group of highly talented and skilled Australian and NZ companies and individuals who are, between them, supplying most of the components and expertise going into the car, which, we expect, will be a great advertisement for the Australian motorsport industry.
“We wanted to create a car which would provide a challenge. With around 570bhp in a car weighing around 680kg, the FT5000 car will provide the same sort of power-to weight ratio, sight, and (importantly) V8 sound, that the original F5000 cars did. That’s what motorsport fans want.”
“While there will undoubtedly be a few one-off events through the regular Australian motorsport season, the desire to focus on a December/January summer ‘Tasman’ series was logical. Apart from separating what we’re doing from that regular Australian domestic season, which should allow teams with existing ‘infrastructure’ to relatively easily take part, we’re hoping it will also attract drivers, and teams from the northern hemisphere (which is in the grip of winter then) – much like NZ’s TRS series, which is a great series – albeit fundamentally a ‘development’ series for mostly under-18s.
“There’s no clash between the two – FT5000 will be in Australia in January while TRS is in NZ. We have also specifically set an 18 year-old age minimum for FT5000, to emphasise that it’s not a development category, but something for drivers to take on once they’ve got that bit more experience.
“The Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS), whom we approached last year to outline our plans, have been supportive. We didn’t go to them seeking a formal CAMS ‘classification’ or CAMS national championship status – we simply proposed running FT5000, and our events, under the generic ‘Formula Libre’ openwheeler classification, so it could prove its worth. The AMRC, and subsequently the CAMS Board, concurred, which was pleasing.”
The existence of a potent prototype car and a potential Summer Tasman series are just the first steps in the process. Being a brand new concept, FT5000’s next, crucial, target is to enlist sufficient numbers of teams and drivers to make a strong and competitive field.
“What happens next is very much up to the motorsport ‘marketplace’ – we hope that the seriously exciting and challenging car (and series) we’re offering will hit the spot. We are starting now to build a ‘register’ of genuinely interested parties who want to be part of it.
Anyone who fits that description can contact us now (FT5000@bigpond.com) for more information.
“We’ve had a few people down to the workshop, in Melbourne, over recent weeks who, like everyone who sees it, are blown away by the ‘wow-factor’ of the prototype car – now we need to, quite soon, turn that into solid commitment so that we can start the process of building and supplying cars. I’m also looking forward to seeing, and hearing, the car run for the first time …”